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Saturday, March 15, 2014

AD&D and Gender Based Stat Limits - What's Up With That?

I cut my RPG teeth on AD&D 1e, so for my first years of gaming I knew nothing but gender based stat limits, especially for strength. Human females couldn't exceed 18/50 in their exceptional strength score (so why even bother rolling the percentiles) and for non-human females, the numbers were worse - they couldn't even hit an 18 (or for halflings, even hit a 15). It's not like the penalty was balanced by an equivalent benefit.

It's too early on a Saturday morning for me to actually break out the books and research it all, but I'm going to guess this first cropped up in the OD&D Greyhawk supplement.

I understand "why" it's there in the AD&D rules - women are the "fairer" sex, but in a fantasy game, does one really need to include such limits?

Were such limits a reaction to the blooming "Women's Liberation Movement" at the time (my mother was an active member until her local chapter started spouting communist ideals)? Was it an reflection that the wargaming and budding RPG hobbies were male domains?

Do any of the OSR clones include gender limits on stats? I don't recall off hand, and again, before breakfast my ability (and drive) to research is minimal ;)

Blame these thoughts on 11 hours of sleep last night - a well rested mind goes off on all sorts of tangents.

25 comments:

  1. More Gygaxian naturalism., consider bench press records, men top out at 722lbs, women about 480 lbs from a quick google search. To your other point, then why didn't they get an extended charisma range? I can't think of a guy whose face launched a single ship.

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    1. I agree. This probably wasn't "political", but rather an attempt at "realism": women in the real world simply can't achieve the same maximum strength (especially upper body strength) as men, for biological reasons. Of course, in a fantasy world there's no reason you couldn't have Amazon types who are as strong as any man. So I see no reason to have such limits in a fantasy game, and personally I don't use them.

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  2. Nope, there were no sex-based limitations on ability scores in OD&D or any of its supplements.

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  3. Interestingly, OSRIC only kept the racial max/mins, but Labyrinth Lord AEC kept both. Recalling a conversation from an episode of the Save or Die! podcast, I looked up an old Len Lakofka article from The Dragon #3 titled, "Notes on Women & Magic - Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D." The article lays out female versions of the four main classes, and replaces charisma with "beauty." I'm sure that these were a byproduct of the culture clashes occurring during that time coupled with the standard trappings of sword & sorcery fiction.

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  4. I actually like 'em for demi-humans. Makes those races feel less human

    I was considering basing strength off of height and weight, so my own game (which is sort of a clone, but not really) will probably have gender-based stat limits incidentally

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  5. Adventures Dark and Deep keeps the 1E gender boundaries.

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  6. 11 hrs? Man I can't sleep for more than 8 without feeling like I am dying.

    that and kids of course. ;)

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  7. Tthe AD&D str limits based on gender was surely an attempt at realism where men do have more muscle mass but it's sort of silly as PCs are rare individuals and a cut above normal as a. Reading of character generation methods would reveal so it really shouldn't matter in the one female in a group has the highest Str in a party.
    A CHA bonus to "balance" the STR max is even more sexist and unrealistic in societies modelled where men utterly dominate leadership and CHA is the leadership stat.
    The old "women & magic" article was very sexist but it also did an excellent job of recreating some of the source fiction.

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  8. Yeah, this is one of those "realism" rules in AD&D that were just needless complication. The DMG is full of them - extra detail that detracts from the game and adds little. I apologize now for ever using them.

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  9. Yeah, I remember those but I think we just ignored them because they were fiddly and we didn't care about "realism" in AD&D.

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  10. In an old Judges Guild magazine there is an article about female characters, giving some unique character classes like the Valkerie as a fighter type. It also includes stat bonuses and penalties, a -1 on strength and a +1 on charisma towards men. On a later issue a woman writes in to point out that any charisma bonus that women get towards men means men should get the same back towards women. While personally I'm fine with gender specific stat modifiers I can see it from both sides. So long as any penalties are accompanied by an equal number of bonuses then I don't mind.

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  11. The limits still appear (in somewhat muted form, due to the lack of exceptional strength) in the AEC.

    I never minded gender-based strength caps, since I prefer to work on the simulationist end of the spectrum. "That's the way things are in real life" is usually an adequate argument for implementing something, unless it's being altered by some explicit form of magic. And I'm basically indifferent to political correctness concerns. Nature is not PC on this issue, and until women start competing in the same Olympic events as men, you won't convince me otherwise. I do generally allow players to ignore the limits if they want, since it's not what I really care about, but I do use them for any NPCs I create.

    What strikes me as more odd about the way AD&D handles this is the fact that the limits are more severe for demihumans than for humans. There's a longstanding fantasy trope of dwarves and elves having limited sexual diamorphism (with "can't tell their men from their women" jokes), and yet human women have the highest strength cap!

    More evidence that the real prejudice in RPGs is against non-humans!

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    1. As it should be. Damned demi-humans and their... feyness. Go back to Tír na nÓg!

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  12. Much like racial level limits, these were usually ignored. Especially if you ever want a woman to game with you.

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  13. We used them back in the day and I had no problem with them. I have no problem with them now. If the game still included them, I'd still use them. But at the same time, I don't mind if they're missing because while I understood them and thought they made sense, I didn't feel like they were necessary for a good game. Much like I don't feel utterly compelled to have realism in my D&D, I also don't feel compelled to have perfect racial or gender balance. I'm perfectly fine with the idea that some races or genders are better or worse than others at certain things. And the idea that a few rare monstrously strong men might be better at battering down a door is fine with me. If the game included an exceptional dex stat where females of certain races could excel over the males (smaller, more dexterous hands for example), I'd be fine with that and I would probably use it. I don't think any of this is sexist in any way shape or form. I think it's just an effort to model the game world after the real world. The argument that players are exceptional doesn't really make sense to me.

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    1. No, PC exceptionalism doesn't make sense if you're using 3d6 in order

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    2. That's a very good point but wasn't really what I meant. I just meant that if you justify women being exceptional wouldn't men be equally exceptional, maintaining a similar gap but at an overall higher level? I never understood why people made a big deal of it either way. Some folks like the mundane portion of the rules to model what we understand to be true. Some people don't. It's an aesthetic preference. It's not frivolous and for some gamers it is probably better or worse depending on taste.

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  14. Never used them and never intend to start. One of the many frivolous complications added to 1e that D&D was better without.

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  15. It's just realism. I used to keep my own 3e female Fighter PCs to STR 16 for the same reason - barring magical enhancement, anything higher seemed silly on a normal-looking female.

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  16. I like strength limits - and social obstacles - for human females, especially in the martial realm. I like some reality in my fantasy.
    I don't impose strength limits on Elf Madchen, I figure Elf girls could break me like a stick.

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  17. If you want a STR penalty for women based on real-world population differences, try -6.

    http://rolesrules.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/ad-gender-differences-not-big-enough.html

    The cap at 18/50 is trivial enough to qualify as just a gratuitous insult. Nobody should really care if you have an 18/75 amazon running around. That's part of the fantasy we can accept along with thieves climbing sheer slippery walls.

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    1. Some of us don't kitchen sink our Fantasy, and I don't find warrior women that interesting so, like Halflings, they don't exist.

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  18. -6 is total bullshit. According to AD&D 1e, this woman easily has >18 Str:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDulY9AJc_c

    As for there being a difference at all... yes, there is. I prefer not to inflict that on players of female characters, but each to his or her own.

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    1. No she doesn't. 18 is the human maximum. Ignore encumbrance tables, they exist for completely different applications . The strongest woman in the world is something like 75‰ of the male records ,and the average woman around 50% the male average. -5, or more like 2d8 - 2,is realistic.

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